Why Ecuador’s president dissolved the National Assembly, and what happens next

QUITO, Ecuador (AP) — President Guillermo Lasso dissolved Ecuador’s National Assembly on Wednesday just as it was forging ahead with impeachment proceedings to remove the conservative leader from office over alleged mismanagement.

In disbanding the assembly, the president, who denies any wrongdoing, made first use of the Ecuador presidency’s nuclear option under the constitution in conflicts with the legislative branch.

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?

Elections must be called within three months, for both the assembly and presidency, and the winners will serve out what would otherwise have been the remainder of the terms of those elected officials, or until May 2025.

Lasso can choose to run in the presidential election. In the meantime, he can rule by decree for up to six months.

The move could deepen the country’s political turmoil and spark protests, as critics push back in part by noting that Lasso was himself on the verge of being ousted. Lasso appears to have the support of the armed forces, but a powerful confederation of indigenous groups — which have nearly paralyzed the country with protests in recent years — has condemned his move.

WAS LASSO’S MOVE LEGAL?

Yes. Ecuador’s 2008 constitution granted the president the power to dissolve the assembly and call for new elections. It’s colloquially known as “la muerte cruzada,” or “the crossed death,” because it cuts short the mandate of both the assembly and the president.

This option is aimed at short-circuiting periods of prolonged political paralysis, and this week was the first time a president used this power.

Now, Lasso can rule by decree on economic issues and matters of government administration, as long as the decrees are approved by the Constitutional Court.

WHAT DID LAWMAKERS ACCUSED LASSO OF?

Lawmakers accuse Lasso of not having intervened to end an allegedly fraudulent contract between the state-owned oil transport company Flota Petrolera Ecuatoriana and the private entity Amazonas Tankers.

They did not accuse Lasso of any personal benefit from the contract, but alleged that he knew it was full of irregularities and that the deal cost the state millions in losses.

Lasso denied any wrongdoing, and has noted that the contract predated his administration.

In testimony Tuesday, he said that the state-owned company experienced losses of $6 million a year before he took office, and that it has seen $180 million in profits under his watch.

HOW CLOSE WAS LASSO TO BEING REMOVED FROM OFFICE?

Lasso’s ouster appeared imminent, or at least very possible, some time this week.

The assembly had gathered for impeachment proceedings Tuesday in which lawmakers presented what they described as irrefutable evidence of irregularities in the oil transport contract.

A vote on Lasso’s removal from office was expected in coming days, and the left-leaning opposition coalition appeared confident of obtaining the 92 votes they would have needed.

CAN THE DISSOLUTION OF THE ASSEMBLY BE APPEALED?

The move can be appealed before the Constitutional Court, and the Social Christian Party already has done so, arguing that there are no grounds for the dissolution of the assembly. The court, however, has traditionally taken a long time to resolve cases.